Home / Lifestyle / X-Ray

Great snakes!

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-04 19:22

I tagged along and swore I would never touch or eat a snake. But I was encouraged to break my personal prohibition out of courtesy for the host. It turned out snakes were not that delicious, at least to me. The meat was rough and chewy, hardly as tasty and delicate as eels, which my friends said I should pretend they were.

The most famous Chinese legend involving snakes puts a decidedly positive spin on their portrayal. Madame White Snake has been told in myriad operas, movies and television serials. The basic plot goes like this: The spirit of a white snake transforms herself into a beautiful maiden, who goes by the name Bai Suzhen and falls in love with Xu Xian, a mortal living by Hangzhou’s scenic lake. They later get married.

Before they can live happily ever after, a monk named Fahai, who used to be a terrapin spirit, tricks Xu Xian into coercing his wife into drinking realgar wine, which reveals her true form as a snake. Xu Xian is so scared that he falls ill. Bai flies to Mount Emei and steals a medicinal herb that revives her husband.

Still untrusting of his wife, Xu allows himself to be taken by Fahai to his temple in Zhenjiang. Bai and her maid-confidante, or her younger sister as some legends say, who is a green snake spirit, come to the rescue. They use their magic power to whip up a big flood. As Bai is pregnant, her power is limited and fails to save him.

The month after she gives birth, Bai is at her weakest physically and is captured by Fahai and suppressed under the weight of the Leifeng Pagoda. When her son grows up, he comes to pray for his mother and topples the tower, reuniting with her.

Great snakes!

Standing debate 

The power of love to transcend species lies at the core of this mythical tale, which has countless variations. In all versions I’ve seen, the white snake is a symbol of purity, and the green snake one of loyalty. The human is weak-willed and the tortoise represents a force against love and compassion.

However, research shows that, at the root of the oral tradition, the snake spirits began as demons of temptation and deceit, and the monk a saviour. Over the centuries, this horror story morphed into an ethereal romance, with the good and bad roles reversed.

Maybe, given time, we can celebrate the Year of the Snake with an upbeat interpretation of the animal that incorporates our modern sensibilities. Maybe the snake can at once charm and be charmed. Maybe it can be male in form, a python of Herculean strength and courage…

Forget about that. The snake in Chinese incarnations will always remain female. You know what? As spelt out in pinyin, snake is “she”. I heard that’s the reason the Taiwan girl band S.H.E. was invited to the 2013 New Year’s Eve gala on national television.


Previous 1 2 3 Next

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349